Sangla to Nako To Kaza: The Roadtrip Continues

Road Trip By Brian Norton |

Recap: We undertook this monumental road trip from Mumbai towards Spiti Valley at the end of October, 2016. Stops included Udaipur, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Sarahan and Sangla.

Our hosts at Sangla told us it was possible to reach Kaza the same day. So onward we left and wanted to halt for breakfast around Kalpa. But around breakfast time, I was stuck with a bout of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Nausea took over and I had to give up the driving seat. The sickness made me lose my appetite but we managed to get some khichdi, some of which I ate and mostly we packed for the onward journey.

But soon we realised that mountain roads aren’t to be taken lightly. From Pooh the road was just a gravel trail, winding around the mountains. My AMS got worse, and to add to it all, we got stuck at a major land slide. For over two and a half hours, we had to wait it out while earth moving equiopment from BRO (Border Roads Organisation) cleared the roads ahead. While we waited, the strong cool breeze blew stones at the car. It’s apprently quite common here, flying stones. The packed khichdi came in handy as we were stuck around lunch time and all were starving. Finally when the road was cleared, it was getting late. The entire stretch of road ahead was nothing but gravel which slowed us down considerably.

It was getting dark so we decided to noit move towards Kaza but halt at Nako, with the hope of staying over at Knaygoh Kinner Camps. We drove into the town at dark (must be around 7 pm) and asked a shopkeeper directions towards the Knaygoh Camps. A kind looking gentleman standing there asked us if we had a booking. We said no, and he nodded his head saying the camps have been shut for winters, and he owns the camps! He told us we shouldn’t have come at this time of the year, and especially without bookings in place!

Important lesson : In the mountains we had mistakenly hoped we could cover plain level distances in one day. We realised it was hopeless to try and cover Sangla to Kaza in one day. We had advance bookings for hotel stay in Kaza but not in Nako.

Shanta Kumar Negi of Knaygoh Kinner Camps kindly helped us look for alternative accommodation, which we found very unsuitable. It was a truckers’ lodge and honestly, looked very very run down. We have stayed at extremely modest places but this was too much. Meanwhile it was getting colder with a biting breeze blowing. After about an hour of talking, discussing, we managed to get one room only (for all five of us) in a guest house’s semi-basement. It looked good enough and we jumped on it, tired and hungry.

Since we had come off-season, there were no restaurants serving dinner. Everything was shut. The guest house kitchen was taken over by a very large and very loud family who were hell bent on cooking something exotic and time consuming for themselves on the kitchen’s lone stove. We managed to convince the over worked cook at the tiny restaurant in the truckers’ lodge to cook something simple for us. And he did, some delicious thukpa and noodles.

The night four of us shared one double bed while I, still sick with AMS, took a tiny cot on the side. It was tough, but fun!

The morning was sunny but cold. We woke up to see the guest house packing it’s gas stove. End of season.We chatted with another couple on a bike trip from Dharamshala, and told us how they slipped on the ice sheet near Nako Lake. I was too AMSd out to try the walk till the lake.

The truckers’ lodge cook made us simple dal, parathas and eggs. Remembering the last day’s land slide, we packed enough parathas for the road ahead. Shanta told us we could read Kaza the same day but should still keep a backup in Tabo. So off we left at around 9am.

The road head was generally fine but deteriorated near Sumdoh. We slowed down again. At around 2pm wew reached Tabo, only to realise everything was shut there as well. We wouldn’t find food too. The home stay that Shanta had suggested in Tabo had it’s water freeze in the pipes so it was shut too. We had no choice but to move ahead towards Kaza. It was already around 2:30, Kaza a good 50 km away. It would be a breeze if the roads were good, but not being sure, we left quickly, only to take a brief stop for our packed parathas by the Spiti River.

On the way towards Kaza, we passed Dhankar, and could see the lovely monastery on the hill. Tomorrow, we told ourselves, and drove on. We reached Kaza by around 6pm.

 

Parts of the journey had pretty good roads.

Sangla valley

That road down there goes right next to the Spiti River.

Spiti Valley Village

Passing through pretty villages like this one, with trees that have turned yellow for the winters.

Nako, Himachal Pradesh.

This is Nako. A high altitude arid region. Please be respectful of the resources here.

Nako, Himachal Pradesh

The hills have been stepped for cultivation in the short summer months.

Nako, Himachal Pradesh

The snow capped mountains in the horizon are so alluring. We are told the snow cover used to be much more earlier. Global warming?

Shanta with his handsome Tibetan Mastiff

Shanta with his handsome Tibetan Mastiff

Child, Nako, Himachal Pradesh

The trucker’s lodge cook’s child. A warm family, that kept us well fed and warm.

Nako, Himachal Pradesh

At the truckers’ lodge, these helpers wait for the chai and paratha to cook.

Nako, Himachal Pradesh.

The child’s mother. One eye on the child, one on the food.

Apple Orchards, Nako, Himachal Pradesh

From Nako towards Kaza, sporadic apple orchards amidst the otherwise dry arid landscape.

Spiti River, Himachal Pradesh

The almost emerald green Spiti River meanders through the mountains, creating a small forested zone along its banks, in an otherwise arid landscape.

Spiti River, Himachal Pradesh

The River Spiti continues charging with the Apple Orchards on its banks.

Skoda Yeti in Spiti Valley

Our trusted Skoda Yeti performed very well…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Somewhere along this gorgeous stretch we saw a family of Hill Partridges (Arborophila torqueola). Love that blue sky.

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Shikha stops for a photo break…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Orchards on either side, the road lingers ahead…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

I love the contrast of the blue sky against the golden mountain face…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Poplars in their majestic winter colour…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Trees have shed most of their chlorophyll in preparation for the long hard winters ahead…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Glorious golden leaves…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

The river bank where we took a lunch break.

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

That’s the Spiti River…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Nearing a village…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Can’t believe it was this beautiful…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

The sun starts going behind the mountains and the landscape feels martian…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

This part of the landscape is mostly a dry arid high altitude desert.

Road to Kaza

BRO has done an excellent job of maintaining these roads.

Road to Kaza

The road wraps like a ribbon around the mountains…

Road to Kaza

A welcome dash of trees in the vast dry landscape…

Skoda Yeti in Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

And you feel so small…

Road to Kaza

A gravel road… The Himalayas are amongst the youngest mountains on Earth. As such, they are still crumbly, and human activity on these fragile mountains leads to constantly sliding gravel, creating landslides. The BRO has a tough job, and they do it very well.

Road to Kaza

Waiting out flying stones, somewhere around Sumdoh. Strong breeze often rolls stones down the mountain and BRO engineers stand warning you…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

A think glacial stream joins the Spiti River. Is the water frozen? Perhaps…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

The river flows quietly…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

And meanders through gorgeous mountains…

Landslide on the Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Landslides often create long waiting periods, like this one, where we were stuck for over two and a half hours. Your crucial driving time is lost and you must budget for fewer kilometers to be covered.

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

But the beautiful vistas make it all worth it.

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

The wide river plains have semi frozen wetlands. The muddy plains, where the flow is less, have sheets of frozen water.

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Dust flying in the distance signals a minor land slide…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

A tiny hamlet across the river. Note the Tibetan style homes…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Love those ice capped mountains in the distance…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

As we approach Kaza, it’s gets darker…

Road to Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Orchards of Apples stand amidst the otherwise arid and desolate landscape.

Kaza Road, Himachal Pradesh

Is that the gate to Kaza?

Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Finally, we enter Kaza at around 5:45 pm… we have to now look for fuel, as the fuel station supposedly rations it everyday.

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